ST. JOHN’S, NL –
According to engineer, physician and entrepreneur Peter H. Diamondis, “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”
Such is the driving force behind research and innovation in many instances, where ideas are explored, analyzed and actioned until they are determined to be feasible and realistic. Dr. Gary Thompson, CNA’s Director of Innovation, has made a lifelong career of exploration, the pursuit of innovative ways of doing things, and applied research.
Most recently, he was named Geoscientist of the Year by the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum - Newfoundland and Labrador (CIM-NL) at its annual conference in St. John’s.
Dr. Thompson said the nomination for the award led to the trek to the podium to accept the designation – a journey that has spanned 28 years, three continents and more than 15,000 kilometres.
Originally from New Zealand, Dr. Thompson came to NL from 1991-95 to complete his PhD at Memorial University. He later moved to pursue his research at the University of Hong Kong. However, it was a visit back to Newfoundland, when he met his future wife, that sealed his connection with the province. They spent eight years in Asia before deciding the return to NL to raise their young family.
He started at CNA in 2004 as an instructor of chemistry and sciences in the Comprehensive Arts & Science (CAS) Transfer: College-University program at Burin campus. He also found himself involved in a few small projects with the college’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation (OARI). In 2010, he took a leave of absence to work in the mining industry; however, he returned a couple of years later to become the NSERC (Natural Science and Engineering Research Council) Industrial Chair for colleges in Atlantic Canada – a full-time researcher working with the mining sector.
Dr. Thompson says receiving the Geoscientist of the Year award, one of four mining association awards handed out that night, is a humbling experience.
“There are some really good people doing work in Newfoundland and Labrador, and to be nominated by your peers is a great honour. Before I came back to Canada, I was purely involved with theoretical research,” he explained. “My research in China and Japan, along with my PhD, was looking at the chemistry of the mantle. While, it’s important to know more about the deep structure and composition of the Earth, there is not much of immediate commercial benefit to this knowledge. It was only when I got back to Newfoundland and started working with Prof. Derek Wilton of Memorial University and Dawn Evans-Lamswood, Head of Exploration at Voisey’s Bay at the time, that my research started focusing on the mining sector and applied research.”
This work ranged from using the chemical composition of Black Spruce trees as an exploration tool in Labrador to more traditional geochemical and mineralogical exploration tools. More recently, Dr. Thompson’s research has focused on improving methods within mine operations to determine gold concentrations (grade) to improve productivity. To aid with this work, he has established two research laboratories at CNA: an applied Mineralogy Lab at Prince Philip Drive campus in St. John’s (with a state-of-the-art Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometry [LIBS] facility – the same technology that was used by the Mars Rover) and a Mineral Processing Lab at Baie Verte campus. Building on these successes, the OARI is now developing a cutting-edge hyperspectral scanning unit. This is a multi-million dollar applied research project, and the largest the college has undertaken, and will be a truly world-class facility.
Prof. Wilton was a great mentor in the mining and exploration sector, recalls Dr. Thompson, as was his most recent experience working with Allan Cramm, Vice President of Innovation of Anaconda Mining.
Cramm attended the CIM-NL conference, and he said he knows first-hand the impact the researcher has had on the industry.
“To develop new technology, you need ideas and science. These are often the attributes of different people, but Gary has often demonstrated he has them both,” exclaimed Cramm of his colleague. “Congratulations, Gary. It continues to be a lot of fun working with you on the current project, and I’m looking forward to working with you on others well into the future.”
Dr. Michael Long, CNA’s Associate Vice President Applied Research and Innovation, was ecstatic to hear the news of his colleague’s award.
“We are enormously proud of and happy for Gary with the recognition this award shines on the valuable work he conducts with the mining sector in the province,” noted Dr. Long. “Gary has been a truly transformative force within College of the North Atlantic’s applied research initiatives. He is gifted scientifically, and most notably, in the quality of the relationships he builds with industry, faculty and students. To us, he exemplifies the impact college applied researchers can have on industry and the development of the highly-skilled people the sector requires.”
Dr. Thompson added that working with college students of multiple disciplines, who graduate and come back to work as a colleague/collaborator, has been a career highlight that has also helped him grow as an educator and researcher.
College of the North Atlantic